The Cross of Good Friday in Isaiah 53

Written around 700 years before Christ, the Book of Isaiah is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. 754 of Isaiah’s 1292 verses are predictive. That means 59% of Isaiah is prophecy.  Isaiah contains 11 direct prophecies concerning Jesus and it is cited or alluded to in at least 50 NT passages. Why?

Lets find out. With the eyes of faith we see Isaiah 53 so explicitly refers to the Lord Jesus it doesn’t need much by way of explanation. Indeed it became so obvious that Isaiah was referring to Jesus after he was crucified and rose again from the dead, that, as the Church separated from the Synagogue, Isaiah 53 was no longer read as part of the Jewish lectionary of readings for the year.  There are five stanzas to this passage, each of three verses, and it begins in chapter 52:13. (Remember the chapter divisions and verse numbering was added in Medieval times and are not there in the original).

1. The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role (52:13-15)
2. The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life (53:1-3)
3. The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering (53:4-6)
4. The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death (53:7-9)
5. The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection (53:10-12)

 

1. The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)

This 1st Stanza contains the words of God as He makes a divine proclamation. He says, “See my servant” The AV uses the word “Behold” The word means ‘To fix the eyes upon’ or ‘to observe with care.’ John said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Notice Jesus would be God’s servant.

God’s servant, and our Saviour. So God speaks “See, My Servant”  I invite you to do just that this morning. I invite you to behold Jesus. I invite you to fix your eyes upon Him. I invite you to see Him in ways that you have never seen Him before. God tells us, through Isaiah, that His Servant will be raised and lifted up. He will be highly exalted, even though his suffering was truly appalling.

This was fulfilled when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, then in his resurrection and ascension.  God then tells us that His Servant will “sprinkle many nations”.  At first this phrase may seem strange.

The word used here means to sprinkle as in to declare clean from disease. Leviticus 14 describes the process whereby one who had been healed from leprosy or some other disease that was considered contagious could be declared clean by the priests.

Through his death Jesus would provide for our cleansing from a disease far worse than leprosy that disease is sin. The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role.

2. The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:1-3)

These verses speak of the ministry of Jesus and the growing incredulity found in the gospels when it became plain that Jesus was not going to fulfil the role of the warrior king and defeat Israel’s enemies. On Good Friday, the Jewish authorities rejected their Saviour. Even the disciples failed to see in Jesus their Saviour.

The reference to the ‘arm of the Lord’ refers to His power to save His people. The Cross is where God’s power resides. The Cross the power of God for salvation. Foolishness to the world, but the wisdom and power of God. The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role. The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life.

3. The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

This is the heart of Isaiah 53 and takes us to the core of why Jesus came. Notice that it was not his sin but ours that he took the cross.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities,
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

The Apostle Paul captures the essence of this in his second letter to the Corinthians. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Verse 6 probably derives its imagery from the ritual which took place on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16:21-22 we see how the high priest acts as God’s agent and symbolically transfers the sins of the people to a goat, known as the ‘scapegoat’ by laying his hands on its head. Then the scapegoat was driven out into the desert to die; even as Christ, the Lamb of God, was crucified outside the city.

The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role.
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life.
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering.

4. The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7-9)

Here we see a description of the Suffering Servant’s death – so completely fulfilled in Jesus. His trial, illegally held at night, was a mockery of justice – it was oppressive. His assigned grave was to have been with the two thieves with whom he was crucified. But a rich Pharisee and secret follower petitioned Pilate for the body to bury him in his own tomb. An exact fulfilment of Isaiah’s prediction 700 years after it was made.

As the split between Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity widened, Jewish rabbi’s increasingly taught that Israel was the ‘Servant’ in Isaiah 53. But sinful Israel could never atone for others. “for the transgression of my people he was stricken”.  It is the singular servant – “he” who dies for the transgression of the people, so the people would not have to. The apostle John understood, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).

The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role.
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life.
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering.
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death

5. The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)

These verses point most emphatically to the resurrection. Having “poured out his life unto death” (53:12), he would nevertheless, verse 11, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” (53:11). He would indeed “prolong his days” (53:10). Christ’s work is presented as a victory over spiritual foes, resulting in a distribution of spoils to those made strong in him.

This is precisely the imagery Paul uses in Ephesians 4 & 6 (see Ephesians 4:8; 6:10-17); Christ the victor grants salvation and spiritual gifts to his people. And Matthew 19:28-30 declares that Jesus the great King, when he returns to reign “at the renewal of all things,” will even grant to his faithful followers a right to share in that reign.” Jesus shall indeed come again, crowned with glory and honour, power and majesty! Now do you see how the good news of Jesus was indeed revealed centuries before he came? Revealed by a loving God who wanted people to recognise His son when he came. Before he came to seek and save the lost.

The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role.
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life.
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering.
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death.
The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection.

The prophecy of Isaiah 53, so graphically fulfilled in the last 12 hours of Jesus earthly life can be summed up in one simple word – ‘love’. And one verse. One verse epitomises the NT response to the predictions of Isaiah 53. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Lets pray.

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